Home / Blog / Cellbots: Fantastic Voyage made real

Cellbots: Fantastic Voyage made real

Iron oxide nanoparticles are incorporated into stem cells to create Cellbots. Image credit: Sungwoong Jeon, Sun Hwa Park, Eunhee Kim, Jin-young Kim, Sung Won Kim, Hongsoo Choi

Do you remember Fantastic Voyage? It was a movie (you might be too young to remember it but it made a sensation when it came out in 1966) on a submarine that was shrunk (with all its crew) to the point of being possible to inject it in the arteries of a person with the mission to reach that person brain and remove a clot. There were, of course, several twists to the story (it was a thriller) but my interest was on the ability to travel inside the body using blood stream to reach the brain and work on it from the “inside”.

It seems that the idea of using the blood stream to get to the brain using a sort of vessel has captivated the imagination of other people as well. A team of researchers at the Catholic University of Seoul, South Korea, has devised a way to modify stem cells by introducing iron nanoparticle in their cytoplasm. This makes the cells sensitive to magnetic fields and using a magnetic field it becomes possible to guide the cell through the arteries and capillaries to the exact point in the brain when they need to be to replace the damaged neurones. This cells are becoming a sort of micro-bots, and they are calling them cellbots, that can be used, in principle, for a variety of medical “fixings”.

The researchers have demonstrated the viability of the approach guiding the stem “cellbots” through a complex maze of microfluidic channels simulating the brain of a mouse. They will now move on with their experimentation to seek approval for medical use.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.